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HomeNewsQueenscliff ferry to return, but Collaroy ferry likely to be scuttled

Queenscliff ferry to return, but Collaroy ferry likely to be scuttled

The MV Queenscliff ferry is set to return to the F1 Manly – City route soon, in November, with hourly services promised from mid-December 2023. It is currently undergoing a major refit in the Australian Navy’s dry dock facility on Garden Island.

However, the MV Collaroy,  will likely be permanently retired.

On 24 September, the NSW Government announced that MV Queenscliff was close to readiness following its withdrawal from service on 13 October 2021.

A NSW Government spokesperson said, “The work is being delivered as part of $114 million investment into Sydney’s ferry fleet in the NSW Budget.”

NSW Transport Minister Jo Haylen confirmed the return of the popular 1150-capacity Freshwater-class ferry.

“This November will see a hero’s welcome for the Queenscliff, currently getting its final touches in time for a return to the Harbour for the busier summer months, alongside the Freshwater,” she said.

MV Queenscliff ferry docked at Circular Quay. Photo: Alec Smart

Collaroy collateral

The MV Collaroy, the most recent of the four Freshwater-class ferries to enter service after Freshwater (March 1982), Queenscliff (July 1983) and Narrabeen (May 1984), is likely to be permanently retired at the end of this month.

Licenced to operate until 28 September 2023, the vessel will undertake its final cross-harbour voyage tomorrow 5:31pm 27 September.

A statement from Minister Haylen explained why it was unlikely return: “While it’s the youngest in the Freshwater Fleet, Collaroy was designed with ocean-going specifications that mean its servicing and operational requirements are different from the other vessels. The Government will make a decision on its future following industry feedback as part of market sounding process to commence at the beginning of October for the potential electric powered replacement vessels, which will inform the longer-term strategy for the Manly route.”

The return of Queenscliff was part of an election commitment, announced in June 2022.

Transport Minister Jo Haylen (second right) with campaigners from Save the Manly Ferry, July 2022. Photo: Alec Smart

Ms Haylen travelled to Manly on 12 July 2022 to meet campaigners to discuss reintroduction of the Freshwaters. When queried on the reintroduction of the MV Collaroy, Ms Haylen revealed that it was beset with problems that might dictate its retirement.

“There are maintenance and operational challenges there,” she said, “including that we can’t get parts directly for the Collaroy.”

A 25 September report in the Sydney Morning Herald revealed the MV Collaroy may be scuttled, with Action for Public Transport consumer group spokesperson Graeme Taylor declaring, “There is nothing wrong with the boat – it’s as fit as a fiddle. Scuttling the Collaroy would be very costly, which is the most likely option because the vessel is unlikely to sell to a private operator.”

If the MV Collaroy is scuttled, it could be towed out of Sydney Heads and deliberately sunk off Long Reef Headland. In this vicinity are several wrecks and one of the two Dee Why-class ferries, SS Dee Why which lies in water approximately 50 metres deep.

It was stripped and scuttled in May 1976 to create an artificial reef for marine life and has become a popular site for advanced scuba divers to explore.

SS Dee Why ferry, scuttled in May 1976 to create an artificial reef. Photo: Wikimedia

MV Collaroy had a distinguished service since its launch on 21 August 1988. The ocean-adapted vessel differed from its predecessors with underwater stabilisers to enable cruises in rougher waters outside of Sydney Heads.

During the Sydney Olympic Games, Collaroy was chosen to carry the official Olympic flame across the harbour on 24 September 2000.

MV Collaroy ferry approaches Manly Cove. Photo: Alec Smart

Candy’s candour

Despite the withdrawal of the MV Collaroy, Candy Bingham, Manly councillor and president of campaign group Save the Manly Ferry, told Manly Observer, she was pleased with the latest news.

“The NSW Government’s announcement that they will retain three Freshwater ferries is a major win for the community, with all three operating by the middle of next year.

“Unfortunately, this comes with a big price tag of around $70m, which is just not sustainable in the long run. (This is because the ferries have to go into dry dock every five years).”

A NSW Government spokesperson detailed the service schedule.

“$71.1 million will go towards extensive refurbishments of the Freshwater fleet. As the Queenscliff re-enters service, the next Freshwater to undertake drydocking will be the Narrabeen in mid-2024, subject to availability of the Navy’s Garden Island dry docking facility. That work will allow this vessel to operate in service until November 2027.

Freshwater will follow in mid-2025, allowing it to operate until July 2030. The upgrades will include improved passenger areas such as new seats, bathroom facilities and new accessibility infrastructure.”

Candy Bingham, Manly Councillor and President of Save Manly Ferry. Photo: supplied

Cr Bingham continued, “That is why we have been pushing for new fully electric “look-alike” Manly ferries, which are built to look like the old Freshwaters.

“Unfortunately, the Emerald II ferries, commissioned by Transdev, have proved completely unsuitable for the F1 route.

“We have a five-year window before the ferries will need to be serviced again so I’m delighted that the Government has listened to the community and will be seeing if their replacement can provide a zero omissions, built-in Australia  Manly Ferry which will provide a truly unique ferry experience.”

Emeralds’ tarnished emeritus

Public pressure to reintroduce all four of the Freshwater ferries came after approximately 80 major defects in the three new Chinese-built Emerald-class II ferries were recorded in the first year of their service. Ten of the problems were steering-related. MV Clontarf required a new port side engine.

The first of the twin-hulled trio, MV Fairlight, began service in October 2021. The following month the second Emerald, MV Balmoral, sustained a damaged rudder and smashed window whilst undertaking sea trials in choppy waves.

The vessels, with ‘wave-piercing hulls’, were cleared to operate in swells of up to 4.5 metres. However, once in service, the Emeralds were repeatedly suspended and a bus replacement service provided when inclement weather brought high waves through Sydney Heads.

Two Emerald-class ferries berthed in Balmain Shipyard in Feb 2023, undergoing repairs. Photo: Alec Smart

Eventually all three of the Emeralds were withdrawn following a host of problems, including the “catastrophic steering failure” of the MV Balmoral, which joined the Clontarf and Fairlight in Balmain Shipyard. Fairlight was ultimately withdrawn from service nine times for a range of major faults and failures.

On 19 October 2022, Paul Garrett, Deputy Secretary of the Sydney branch of the Maritime Union of Australia, disparaged the Emerald Class ferries, saying “these boats are better off serving as dive wrecks.”

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Manly Observer is an experiment in providing non-sensationalist hyperlocal news on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. We cover the big news across the LGA, but with a hyper focus on the Manly electorate encompassing Balgowlah, Seaforth, Freshwater, Brookvale and Curl Curl up to Dee Why. It is run by those living in the community for the benefit of an informed community. We care about an informed and connected community. That’s it. Simple. Thank you for your support in keeping quality local news alive!

Kim Smee, Editor

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